Talking to kids about others with disabilities and differences
Now that I'm a relatively experienced mama, I've lost the anguish felt the first time a child under my care ever stared and pointed at someone who looked differently: whether because of darker skin, an obvious physical disability, or other not-typical appearance. I've learned to respond with equanimity or avoidance when appropriate: "Yes, there are a lot of different people on the bus!" or "Sweetie, let's use our quiet voices please." And what to do when a four-year-old kindly, loudly asks about "the old lady over there" when you suspect she's only middle-aged? An urbanNanny asks:
The 18-month-old girl that I watch has been crying every time we are near a person in a wheelchair. These experiences on the Max or in a coffeeshop we frequent are likely the only times she has seen a person in a wheelchair. When the crying happens it appears (by the look on her face) that she is scared, so I have been talking to her about how it is okay, that the person uses a chair to get around and that she uses her legs or a stroller. I'm not sure how to best handle the situation so I would love to post this as a discussion topic to get advice.
I've often subscribed to the "tell as much of the truth, as simply, as you can and leave it at that" philosophy -- she's using that tactic admirably -- but when a child is visibly or audibly upset by a different-looking stranger, what do you do? How best to balance the child's own needs (is she unusually sensitive and empathetic?) with your desire not to hurt another human being's feelings?